Politics

A year after Jan. 6 insurrection, Alaska’s congressional delegation has a mixed record on supporting investigations into what happened

On Jan. 6, 2021, Dan Sullivan linked arms with Lisa Murkowski, and Alaska’s two U.S. senators ran through an underground tunnel, away from rioters invading the U.S. Capitol.

Later that day, they and Rep. Don Young issued a joint statement denouncing the invasion by violent supporters of President Donald Trump.

“The violence that transpired today in the U.S. Capitol building was a disgrace and will go down as one of the sadder and more dispiriting days in our country’s history,” Sullivan said at the time, and he repeated the statement on Wednesday.

“We must send a clear message by bringing the perpetrators of violence to justice, and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law,” Young said a week after the riot.

But in the year since rioters invaded the Capitol, Sullivan and Young have almost entirely stopped talking about the riot and have voted repeatedly against efforts to investigate whether it was deliberately organized, and if so, by whom.

Murkowski has been more open about the topic and has voted in favor of efforts to conduct a public investigation.

“I want to know what was and who was really behind the events of Jan. 6. And I think it’s important for the for the country to understand that too,” she said in a December interview with the Daily News and Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Representatives of Sullivan and Young each said those lawmakers were unavailable to talk about the riot when contacted in late December and early January. Young’s spokesman, who requested questions be emailed to him, answered some questions but not others. Sullivan’s spokesman issued a statement that did not answer any questions.

All of Alaska’s elected federal officials are Republicans, and public opinion polling shows a deep partisan divide on the events of Jan. 6. In March, about 80% of Republicans said it was important to find and prosecute the Capitol rioters. By September, that figure was below 60%.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans surveyed in a recent national poll say they expect a similar riot to occur again in the next few years.

In the year since the Capitol riots, here’s what Alaska’s congressional delegation has done:

Upholding the 2020 election results

On Jan. 6, pro-Trump rioters invaded the Capitol with the goal of disrupting the counting of the Electoral College vote that declared President Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

The day after, all three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation voted to uphold the result and affirm the Electoral College result.

“We either believe in states’ rights, or we do not. It would be unprecedented for Congress to overturn the results certified by the states,” Young said.

“Overturning this election would, in essence, create a system that would allow the president to be chosen by whichever political party controls Congress, overriding the power of the states,” Sullivan said.

One hundred and forty-seven Republicans, eight from the Senate and 139 from the House, voted to overturn the election results.

Splits on impeachment and conviction

Murkowski immediately pinned responsibility for the riot on Trump and called on him to resign before the end of his term.

“He needs to get out. He needs to do the good thing, but I don’t think he’s capable of doing a good thing,” she said.

He did not resign, and the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection” one week later. Young was not present but cast a vote against impeachment through a proxy and did not answer questions about his vote.

In February, impeachment came to a vote in the Senate. Murkowski voted in favor of conviction, Sullivan in favor of acquittal.

“I strongly believe the Senate does not have jurisdiction to try a former President who is now a private citizen,” Sullivan said at the time.

Fifty-seven members of the Senate — 50 Democrats and seven Republicans — voted in favor of impeachment, 10 votes short of the number needed for conviction.

Jan. 6 investigation votes and statements

In May, the House voted 252-175 to create an independent commission to study the insurrection. Young, who voted against the commission, delegated his vote; he wasn’t present in the House on the day of the vote and didn’t speak on the topic, but he later said it was unnecessary because the House already has investigative powers.

[Timeline: Pelosi and McCarthy, briefly in accord on the Jan. 6 riot, have diverged in statements since]

When the House-passed bill came to the Senate, it needed 60 votes to advance because of filibuster rules in the Senate. The vote was 54-35, with Murkowski and five other Republicans voting in favor of the commission.

Sullivan voted against creating the commission and did not talk about the issue, instead devoting a floor speech to a pending technology bill. In a written statement issued at the time, he said he believed an independent commission was unnecessary because of other investigations.

On Wednesday, in a written statement from his communications director, Sullivan said, “It is important to point out that the vast majority of those who came to D.C. that day, including many Alaskans, did not commit violence or break the law. They were doing what we all have the right to do in America — exercising their First Amendment rights and peacefully protesting. This is a critical distinction that has not been fairly portrayed in media reports on that day. Further, when federal law enforcement makes mistakes, as they have in some instances during their investigation into those responsible, they need to acknowledge such mistakes and apologize.”

Sullivan’s statement about an apology referred to the erroneous April FBI raid on the home of a Homer woman who attended protests preceding the Capitol riot but said she didn’t enter the building. Anonymous tipsters said she resembled a woman seen in the Capitol during the riot.

Sullivan also said he believes the Jan. 6 investigation is being inappropriately used by Senate Democrats to advance efforts on federal election reform.

“I will continue to vigorously fight against such attempts, as I believe most Americans and Alaskans want me to do,” he said.

With no independent commission, the U.S. House created its own panel, which has continued to investigate and is expected to deliver results this year.

In December, Murkowski said that was a missed opportunity because opponents of the report can paint it as politically tainted by the fact that the Democratic Party controls the House. (The investigative panel includes Republicans and Democrats.)

“I think you will find when this final report comes out, you will have those for whom it doesn’t make any difference what what the outcome of that report is — they’re not going to believe it because they can say totally partisan on the Democrat side. But that’s what happened when it was rejected. And I think that that that part is unfortunate,” she said.

[How GOP became party of Trump’s false claims]

In this year’s U.S. Senate election, Murkowski’s chief challenger is former state Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka. On Wednesday, Tshibaka said she believes that those who committed crimes and acts of violence are being held responsible by the judicial system, but she said the Jan. 6 investigation is politically motivated.

“The Jan. 6th Committee is a partisan witch hunt which is essentially the third attempt to impeach President Trump. It is nothing more than a rehashing of the second sham impeachment. If that committee wanted to be useful, it would examine ways to better protect the Capitol, which would actually be within its authority,” she said.

“The Senate has already acquitted President Trump on the question of Jan. 6th, despite Lisa Murkowski’s vote to remove him from office after he was already gone. Democrats are trying to keep the issue alive in their desperation to hold onto power in Congress, and they have Murkowski as an ally.”

Contempt charges against Bannon, Meadows

As the House’s Jan. 6 investigation has continued, some targets of the investigation have attempted to ignore subpoenas for their records.

In October and again in November, the House voted 229-202 to hold former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena. Young voted against the charges; only nine House Republicans voted for them.

In December, the House voted 222-208 to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt, also for defying a subpoena related to the Jan. 6 investigation. Again, Young voted against the charge. Only two Republicans voted yes.

Capitol security votes

The one area where there has been widespread agreement in Congress and among the congressional delegation is on security for members of Congress themselves.

In July, the House and Senate agreed on legislation that increases funding for the Capitol’s police department as well as $521 million for the National Guard and $300 million to harden the Capitol’s windows, doors and entryways. All three members of Alaska’s delegation supported the proposal.

“Security is critical to the Congressman, and he knows how important it is that Congress’s constitutional duties are allowed to proceed unhindered. It doesn’t matter to the Congressman if rioters come from the left or the right; he wants to ensure the complex is secure regardless,” said Young’s communications director, Zack Brown, on Wednesday.

The delegation also agreed in December on a bill that allows Capitol Police to request help from the National Guard when needed. The Jan. 6 investigation has found that delays in National Guard response contributed to problems during the riot.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.

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